Excellence personified

When Travis Peeples enrolled in Lake Placid High School, swimming was little more than an afterthought. He came to the Green Dragons to play football.

"I used to play football in middle school, and I was setting up plans to play in high school," Peeples said. "But someone told me to come out for the swim team, and from the second I got to the pool, I fell in love with the sport."

Peeples blossomed into one of the Dragons best swimmers, dominating individual events like the 50 and 100-yard freestyle, while also helping the 200 medley and freestyle teams become perennial winners.

At this year's Class 2A-District 6 meet in Frostproof, Peeples won the 50 freestyle race with a stellar time of 23.58, and finished second in the 100 freestyle at 51.93. In the team events, he combined his talents with other Dragons stars like Andrew Brown, Jr., Dalton Lambert, and Travis Russell to capture the 200 freestyle relay with a sizzling time of 1:37.45. The quartet notched another top three finish in the 200 medley event, placing second at 1:49.45.

Peeples excelled in the regional meet as well. Swimming among some of the state's best talent, he finished sixth (23.98) in the 50 free and eighth in the 100 free (52.54). And in the team events, Peeples, Brown, Jr., Lambert, and Russell worked together for a fourth place finish in the 200 medley (1:47.34) and a sixth place finish in the 200 free (1:36.30).

For his standout performances, both individually and as a teammate, Peeples has been selected as the Highlands Today 2013 All-Highlands Boys Swimmer of the Year.

"I feel so proud that I got it," Peeples said. "I'm trying to swim in college, and to be recognized for my efforts just means so much. It really means a lot to me."

With so many talented swimmers in Highlands County, Lake Placid boys coach Tom Creel said it wasn't an easy decision in trying to select a swimmer of the year.

"It was so, so, so, so close," he said. "It came down to individual performance at regional's and that's where Travis really excelled."

But even with all the accolades, Peeples is drawn to swimming by something far more important than individual success: team camaraderie.

"We tend to think of ourselves as a family," he said. "I had seniors that I looked up to when I was a freshman and now I hope to inspire the younger swimmers below me."

The Team

Andrew Brown, sophomore, Lake Placid - Brown was an integral piece of the Dragons swim team, despite being just a sophomore. He helped make Lake Placid one of the strongest teams in its region.

"Andrew excels in all he does," Creel said. "He continues to define and set new standards of what makes swimming a force for good in the Heartland."

Jacob Livingston, senior, Sebring - A perennial face in the butterfly, freestyle, and individual medley events, Livingston was admired by coaches and teammates for his spirit. He was also selected as co-captain by his Blue Streak contemporaries.

Domonic Hutchins, senior, Avon Park - The captain of the Wet Devils, Hutchins was electric in the pool. He made it to the Class 2A regional event in the 100 backstroke, completing it in a sizzling 1:12.47. He also competed in the 400 freestyle relay and the 200 medley relay.

"He's one of those student-athletes who lights up the pool with his personality," said Avon Park boys swim coach Tracy Lee. "He will be sorely missed next year."

Alex Miller, senior, Lake Placid - A senior well known for always coming through for his team. Creel noted that his leadership was a big plus for helping the Dragons excel this season.

Jack Edgemon, freshman, Sebring - A freshman phenom who excelled in the long distance, freestyle, breaststroke events.

"We called him 'the machine,'" said Sebring boys swim coach Pat Caton. "He's a quiet kid, but he can put his pedal to the metal when it came time to swim."

Josh Williams, sophomore, Avon Park - Heading into the season, Williams' goal was to break the Devils 100 breaststroke record. He came close, setting a personal record of 1:13.68. Williams also competed in the 200 IM and was a member of the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams.

"Josh continued to drop his time as the season went on," Lee said. "He's even thinking about splitting time between diving and swimming next year."

Luke Feagley, freshman, Lake Placid - A first year swimmer, Feagley shocked his Dragons teammates with his raw talent. Feagley also improved his times as the season wore on.

"He's just another example of why swimming is such a strong sport in the Heartland," Creel said.

Tevin Bullard, sophomore, Sebring - Maybe the Blue Streaks most level-headed swimmer, Bullard was always a threat to win his events, despite his stoic demeanor.

Steven New, junior, Avon Park - Known for setting his goals and reaching them, New had been chasing the 50 freestyle record for quite some time. He finally nabbed it at the district meet in Winter Haven, finishing with a scorching time of 22:55.

"Steven is a motivated, determined, and eager swimmer," Lee said. "He always works extremely hard to improve in the pool. His senior year is sure to be one that goes in the record books."

Dalton Lambert, senior, Lake Placid - Captain of this year's Dragons squad, Lambert comes from a long line of Lake Placid swimmers.

"His strong swimming ability and leadership will be sorely missed," Creel said. "He did his part to continue the Lambert legacy."

Luke Smith, sophomore, Sebring - One of the Streaks best swimmers in the breaststroke, long distance, and IM events, Smith swam hard in every event.

"He's a really hard worker," Caton said. "We're glad he'll be back with us next year."

Josh Gaidos, senior, Avon Park - Gaidos capped his high school swim and dive career on a high note, going to regional's as a swimmer while also making the state finals as a diver.

Mason Million, freshman, Lake Placid - Despite being a freshman, Million was no stranger to swimming. His mom, Vickie Million, was a legendary Dragons swimmer in the 1980s.

"Mason has come to the Dragons with the intent of caring on his family's history of greatness," Creel said. "He does his best every day and it will be exciting to watch as he creates a legacy of his own."

Freddy Tagtemier, senior, Sebring - Tagtemier was loved by coaches and teammates for his enthusiasm for swimming. A strong and versatile swimmer, he excelled in the backstroke and freestyle events.

Zack Hutchins, sophomore, Avon Park - One of the most dependable swimmers Avon Park had this year, Zack advanced to the regional competition in Clearwater as part of the 400 and 200 freestyle relay teams.

Isaac McClean, freshman, Lake Placid - A first year swimmer with no prior experience in the pool, McClean showed determination to improve and get faster. He qualified for regional's in the 100 butterfly.

Sam Smith, senior, Sebring - Smith excelled in both the Class 2A-District 9 and Region 3 meets. He finished second (24:05) in the 50 freestyle at districts a 12th at regional's (24.12), while also winning the 400 freestyle relay at districts and finishing sixth in regional's.

Koy McGrath, junior, Avon Park - Known for "making waves in the pool," McGrath's speed sets him apart from the other Wet Devils.

"He swam the maximum number of events at the meet in Clearwater," Lee said. "And he finished the 200 freestyle in 2:07 while blazing through the 50 freestyle in 24.85. This was an exceptional season for Koy."

Travis Russell, sophomore, Lake Placid - Still the record holder of Lake Placid's 200 medley relay event, Russell is known as one of the Green Dragons' hardest workers.

Ryan Parchment, senior, Avon Park - A dedicated four-year swimmer, Parchment's hard work in the offseason paid off, as he reached the regional meet in Clearwater in the 100 butterfly.

Clay Sapp, junior, Lake Placid - An all-around great swimmer, Sapp excelled in the 50 and 100 freestyle, thanks to his indomitable work ethic and endless training.

"He trained hard and provided much-needed leadership to his teammates," Creel said. "He always performed best at big swim meets and is a valuable member of the Dragons swim program."

Weston Thompson, sophomore, Avon Park - The swimming season never really ends for Thompson, as he always sets a goal for the next year. His best event this year was the 100 butterfly, and he finished with an impressive time of 1:16 at the regional meet in Clearwater.

Luis Cervera, freshman, Avon Park - Cervera jumped right from the baseball diamond and into the pool, and there appeared to be no learning curve. He was one of many Wet Devils who made it to the regional meet in Clearwater. Cervera also had a PR in October in the 100 backstroke with a time of 1:15.71.

"We weren't sure when he first came out at the beginning of the season, but after only a few minutes in the pool, the coaches saw great potential," Lee said. "He's a great athlete and the Red Devils are fortunate to have him."

Honorable Mention

Gunner Durrance, freshman, Lake Placid

Evan Reed, junior, Sebring

Clayton Waldron, junior, Lake Placid

Johnny Acosta, freshman, Sebring

Hilton Teal, sophomore Lake Placid

Siddartha Ananthan, freshman, Sebring

Andrew Johnson, senior Sebring

Coach of the Year

For guiding the Lake Placid boys swim team into the regional meet and another stellar season, Tom Creel has been selected as the Highlands Today All Highlands Boys Swim Coach of the Year.